Evidence-Based Nutrient Recommendations

Vegan Meats and Poor Health Outcomes


by Jack Norris, RD

A June 10, 2024 article published in the Washington Post, When plant foods are ultra-processed, the health benefits disappear, reported on a U.K. study examining diet and cardiovascular disease outcomes (Rauber, 2024).

The study had an observational prospective design that measured the participants’ diets and followed their health outcomes for an average of 9 years. It found that eating a diet higher in plant foods was associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease unless those plant foods were ultra-processed. This pattern is consistently found in the scientific literature for cardiovascular disease and other poor health outcomes (Lane, 2024).

The Washington Post article emphasized that “meat substitutes, fruit juices, and pastries” are ultra-processed foods.

But do meat substitutes deserve to be called out?

On average, ultra-processed plant foods were 39% of the caloric intake of the study participants. ​​Pastries, buns, and cakes were 6.9% of calories. Soft drinks, fruit drinks, and fruit juices comprised only 2.0% of calories, suggesting that fruit juice wasn’t highly represented.

But meat alternatives comprised only 0.2% of calories! Such a small amount of meat substitutes cannot provide any statistical meaningfulness regarding their impact on health outcomes. Rauber et al. didn’t examine the role of meat substitutes in any finer detail.

Rauber et al. cite a paper from the United States-based Adventist Health Study-2 that examined the role of ultra-processed plant foods (Orlich, 2022). Although the Adventist Health Study-2 includes a population that tends to eat meat substitutes, Orlich et al. didn’t examine meat substitutes in enough detail to shed light on their relationship with health outcomes.

Meat substitutes can be an excellent source of protein for vegans, so I don’t like to see them unjustifiably implicated in causing poor health outcomes.

While vegan meats can be high in sodium, if you limit other high-sodium foods, you can eat them while keeping your sodium intake within a healthy range.


Lane MM, Gamage E, Du S, Ashtree DN, McGuinness AJ, Gauci S, Baker P, Lawrence M, Rebholz CM, Srour B, Touvier M, Jacka FN, O’Neil A, Segasby T, Marx W. Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses. BMJ. 2024 Feb 28;384:e077310.

Orlich MJ, Sabaté J, Mashchak A, Fresán U, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Miles F, Fraser GE. Ultra-processed food intake and animal-based food intake and mortality in the Adventist Health Study-2. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022 Jun 7;115(6):1589-1601.

Rauber F, da Costa Louzada, ML, Chang K, Huybrechts I, Gunter MJ, Monteiro CA, Vamos EP, Levy RB. Implications of food ultra-processing on cardiovascular risk considering plant origin foods: an analysis of the UK Biobank cohort. The Lancet Regional Health – Europe. Published online: June 10, 2024.

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